Life is crazy, and it can be even crazier in the school business. Disciplinary issues, unforeseen obstacles, and implementation difficulties always divert the attention from the one thing that we must guarantee. Challenging questions and misunderstandings detract from our focus. How does that always happen, or even better, why do we allow it to happen?
It is because we lose sight of the "1-4 Principle".
Since it is 2014, we need to use this year's digits to refocus us on what's most important.
-1-Our school's New Year's Resolution can only be one thing, All Kids will Learn. Say what you want about integrating technology, becoming more innovative with assessments or designing more real world learning environments, but if it doesn't guarantee that all kids will learn, those things are kind of pointless. Our belief system is the difference in whether or not we deliver that guarantee. All the new instructional innovations are great ideas to connect more kids to learning, but we must never forget. Instructional ideas are tools, but we are the carpenters.
-4-If all members of a school believe in all kids, then they must employ the number 4 into their daily work. There are 4 questions that every educator must answer every day to guarantee that all kids learn. These questions, which are the crux of DuFour, DuFour and Eaker's work, are the guiding questions to help educators focus on learning. Let's review these questions before we dissect them a bit.
- What do we expect all kids to learn?
- How will we know if they have learned?
- How will we respond if they don't learn?
- How will we respond when they do learn?
The 4 questions are not something to be reviewed lightly. The questions should always remind us of our belief in all kids and then direct our actions to meet the needs of all kids.
The Power of 'We'
Notice that the subject of each question is the pronoun, we. It is not you, me, he, she or they. We means that no one is exempt from participating in the most important thing, guaranteeing that all kids succeed. It also means that diverse opinions and ideas play a huge role in the development of all educators; therefore, all educators are required to participate. PLC's can't be one person dictating what the group will expect, and then everyone follows along. We means consensus. It requires the vision of several I's in the room to unite and find a collective focal point, Learning for All. (which also includes educators learning from each other)
The Agreement of Expecting
If teams are able to transcend into the power of 'We', then they are ready to definitively define what all kids must be able to do to demonstrate mastery. Whether it be reading, writing, math or any other high leverage skill, teams must clearly define levels of proficiency for every kid. By agreeing on what they expect all students to know as a result of instruction, students have a greater chance of achieving success in their learning. Conversely, if teams fail to agree on the expectations for mastery, every action from that point will be literally pointless.
The Alignment of Knowing
Once teams can agree on the levels of mastery for learning, they are ready to align the instructional methods and strategies that they will employ to determine if kids have actually learned. Determining an aligned understanding of the depth of knowledge, complexity of assessments, as well as conceptual understanding are vital conversations that all teams must have if they want to determine which kids need more time and which kids can move on. The most important idea about the alignment of knowing is that it helps teams determine which kids need which response.
The Heart of Responding
Every kid deserves a response. If they get it, they need to be able to apply their learning through more challenging and meaningful work. And if they don't get it, all kids deserve a response that pinpoints the onset of failure and then builds a bridge to understanding. Every response requires educators to connect with kids in unique and personalized ways. All kids learn or fail to learn, and they all deserve a unified response from teams.
Making the 1-4 Principle a Daily Focus
New year's resolutions fail for one reason. They are not referred to daily. If teams expect to the 4 questions to be successful, they must first commit to one belief, All Kids can Learn. Each day, teachers and teams must remind themselves that all kids can learn, but in some cases we have failed to figure out how we can get them there. Staying focused on believing in the potential of all kids helps teams find new ways to solve old problems.
Secondly, teams must evaluate the 4 questions from a preventive as well as reactive mindset. Teams plan together to help kids learn, but they must never forget to look back and reflect on student performance. Reflection guides teams in the creation of next steps. Learning requires teachers to decide the best pathway for students to acquire knowledge while looking back to determine if the team created the best pathway for all kids.
The 1-4 principle is a delicate balance between culture and structure. It's a deep-rooted belief in all kids and a unified action plan to help that belief actualize itself. In 2014, I hope that as you return to the hectic work of educating all kids, you will put the 1-4 principle in the forefront of your work. By keeping this as your focal point every day, the daily obstacles and interruptions have less of a chance of derailing your work all together.